Sunday, October 26, 2014

SURVIVOR: Cook Islands Aitutaki

There are a lot of people who bash Facebook and other social media, but not me. If I hadn't become FB friends with a former Stephens College Theatre  friend from 35 years ago on FB, (who shared the contest on FB)  I would not be snorkeling in Cooks Islands. How happy would you be to enter and win an Air New Zealand contest for round-trip air and 5 nights at a 5 star resort with food and spending money?
I say " I Love You Facebook"!


Tired and peevish after 36 hours of travel, I had to rub my eyes twice for my first view of Aitutaki from the airplane window.  Yes, the only word that comes to mind is STUNNING  (where is my thesaurus!)- a turquoise blue lagoon that surrounds the entire island!.....

Aitutaki is one of 15 islands that make up the Cook Islands in the South Pacific.  These islands were first settled in the 6th century by Polynesian people who migrated from Tahiti (an island about 1,100 km to the north east).  
Our Hosts for this spectacular trip:

Air New Zealand represented by Kristin Mooney their Brand Engagement Executive.  Kristin should get a promotion after having to deal with all the requests from Rich!  Air New Zealand flew us from Paris to London to Los Angeles to Aukland (passing the International Date Line) to Rarotonga and finally to Aitutaki (passing the International Date Line again).  We survived 36 hours of travel time.  
Thank you Kristin and Air New Zealand for extending our stay beyond the Aitutaki trip that Richard won.

Pacific Resort Aitutaki  (
General Manager Greg and his attentive team made our stay special. 
Lower right is Richard 37 hours after leaving Paris.

Surviving in Luxury at the Pacific Resort Hotel for 5 nights was the roughest part of our trip. For Survivor TV show fans, we were told Jeff Probst and Mark Burnett stayed here during filming of Survivor 2006.

Taking a walk with no one in sight but the hermit crabs...

Walking to One Foot Island from a sand bar in the middle of the lagoon.  (This island and the island next to it is where many of the Survivor challenges were played) 

Roni teaching us about the importance of the coconut on the island.  Richard is shown grating the coconut which is used for cooking, making oil, drinking, beauty products etc etc.

Bishop's Cruises toured us through the islands and Mata above, talked about the native plants in particular the Pandanus tree, breadfruit, bananas, paw paw, and of course how to crack open a coconut.  People do not go hungry on this island.

Hanging with the locals and eating the real local food.  The key ingredients:  Coconut, Bananas, PawPaw, Fish, Taro, Breadfruit, Cassava, Papaya.  Lamb and chicken were also served.

As the Cook Islander's say "MEITAKI AND AERE RA"  Thank you and Goodbye.
It's time to leave this paradise hop back on the plane and begin our exploration of 
New Zealand!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Left Bank, the Magic of Medoc


I have always had an admiration for Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the USA,  primary drafter of the Declaration of Independence etc...but finding out about his time as US Ambassador to France and his travels in Europe gave me an enophilic relationship with him.  Of course, his visit in Bordeaux lasted 5 days and helped grow the world estimation of Bordeaux wines, I stayed 5 weeks and the only thing growing was my waistline. Nearly 70 years before the Bordeaux/Medoc wines were Classified in 1855, Jefferson had such a nose and insight about wine that he devised his own 1st growth, 2nd growth chart with detailed accurate notes on each Estate.  

It is in this Medoc region of the Left Bank that our love of Cabernet Sauvignion was rewarded.  We were able to secure private tours of three 2nd growth vineyards, some established in the 16th & 17th centuries.  (FYI, the Lafite, Latour and Margaux Chateaux were too busy with harvest to meet the President of Swine & Dine, we will see if they receive a good review in this Post humph!) 

The Chateaux and vineyards take expected pride in their history and although there is always discussion about the validity of the classification system, (which is as political an argument as you will find anywhere and too involved for this sampling) the tasting and enjoyment of their creation is always first and foremost on their lips.  It has been a pleasure. 
Merci Beau coup!

You are looking a little presidential there Rich, maybe you shouldn't have cut your hair. Seeing those noses, maybe you are related to Thomas Jefferson.  History says he had a few more children after Martha died - maybe one settled in Finland.... 

...Let's get back to the wine.  Our last post talked about the right bank of the the Garonne River.  This is about the left bank where you will still find Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes, however, this is the soil where the Cabernet Sauvignon thrives best.  The soil is predominately gravel and sand - a hot soil.

Our first stop on the left bank was at the Chateau Pichon-Longueville in Pauillac where we were met for a private tour with Oenologue Ana Carvalho.  This winery has history dating back to 1694, and is now owned by AXA insurance (purchased in 1987).  
Disclosurer: we own AXA stock, yay!  that must make us owners of this winery!!

There is no machine harvesting in the Pauillac Appellation, all the grapes are picked by hand.  The Merlot grapes are harvested first followed by the Cabernet grapes in October - pictured are the Cabernet grapes enjoying the last of the warm sun.  Our well traveled guide Ana worked in wineries throughout the world from Europe to South America even New Zealand - (she needs to get out to California) So young with so much knowledge about wine.  We ended the lesson in the tasting room, our favorite part of the tour!

2nd stop was Chateau du Taillan in the Haut-Medoc Appellation.  This is a small family estate with 30 hectares of vineyards run by 5 sisters.  It is one of the oldest wineries in the Medoc area dating back to the 16th century.

You can see one of the sisters' Marie (her back is to us as she is sorting the grapes and her gloved hand asking us to taste the first pick of the Cabernet grapes.)  The barrel room is in a 16th century  natural cellar that is stunning.  We learned that even though the Medoc soil is normally gravel, more of their soil is Limestone/Clay, thus 70% of their grapes are Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Cabernet Franc. Pictured with Rich is Johanna, who grew up locally in the area - her expertise was as refreshing as the La Rose du Tailian that we tasted and purchased!                                                                                                      

Now we head to the Margaux Appellation and the Chateau Brane-Cantenac, owned by the Lurton Family since 1922.

Marie, the "Directrice Commerciale" of Bane-Cantenac took us on her working tour, it was kind of like bring your kids to work day, as we went through the winery.   The Cabernet Sauvignon grape was being worked,  in the fermenting area with all the stainless steel vats, a young man was emptying and refilling vats to allow the grapes to breathe,   Henrique (a courtier or broker for the winery) stayed with us through the tour (below left), and bottom right are the barrels waiting for those 2014 grapes!

Ahh Marie - You are extraordinary, I love your passion for this industry and the Chateau you work for.  Your explanation of the "Terroir" will stay with me.

Chateau Lascombes in Margaux.  The first floor of the chateau was built in the 17th century, and built upon by successive owners to the 19th century.  MASCF a French Insurance Co purchased this 118 Hectares (291 acres) 0f vines in 2011.

Our chateau guide Benedicte is in the barrel room with the new barrels for the 2014 harvest.
In the cellar of the Chateau Lascombes the oldest bottles were from 1881.
 And last pic, our new friends Mark, Nancy, and Delphine and her fellow graduate in Oenology from the University of Bordeaux. 

Back in Bordeaux, Delphine directed us to some great wine bars that allowed us to taste as many of the different areas that we missed.  These wine bars were self-serve and had the wines divided by left and right bank.  Since we missed the Lafite, Latour and Margaux Chateaux, we were able to do the tastings here! 
We made new friends Mark and Nancy from Greenwich Village New York above and our local friends and Air BnB landlords Particia and Pierre!
Merci Beau Coup!

We did our best to visit as many Bordeaux Appellations and to drink as many bottles of wine as we could - they say Disney is the happiest place on earth- I say Bordeaux is!

Vostre Sante!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A River Runs Through It: Saint-Emilion, Blaye, & Cognac


In our travels we have discovered most cities are divided into sections or communities, whether it be by economic, cultural, or historical, there are distinctions.  Bordeaux may be the first to be divided by soil type.  When in Paris if you refer to Left bank vs Right bank of the Seine it may connote wealth and the old guard of the right vs the artists and students of the left.  In Bordeaux all the money and students are pretty much on the left side, but the wine differences between the two sides is always up for discussion.  In Bordeaux the "Terroir" is EVERYTHING!  The make-up of the soil and the type of wine each soil produces becomes biblical in importance here.  

View of Saint-Emilion from out in the vineyards.  
Saint-Emilion is called the Hill of 1000 wines.

The Merlot grape ready for harvest

 As we travel, one of the highlights is when we rent a car, leave the city and get to visit the countryside.  Bordeaux is beautiful country with very nice people who have  a deep love and respect for their wine heritage.  We hope you all are able to experience it someday.  One more thing, don't expect many wine reviews here, we will leave that to the oenophiles.  The best advice we learned is that every palette is different, whatever tastes good to you is a good wine.


There is no way we can even make a dent in visiting the many wineries in Bordeaux (8,000 Chateaux) so we are going to pick a few in each appellation and hope for the best!  This post is on a few of the wineries found on the "Right Side" of the Garonne River where the cool soil is predominately clay and limestone making for excellent Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes.

Our first stop is Saint-Emilion, the oldest wine area of the Bordeaux region dating back to the time of the ancient Romans and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

2 views of old Saint-Emilion - with a silly selfie and without - the town and the couple both look in need of a restoration....

 Saint-Emilion is an historic fortified village filled with monuments of its long history.    
"The Chateau Rochebelle" was the first winery we stopped at outside of the village.

2nd day on the "Right Bank", we decided to take a wine tasting cruise up the Garonne to Blaye - pictured below left is another UNESCO Heritage site dating back to the 12th century "The Citadel of Blaye."  We were taken to a refuge on Patiras Island to do more wine tasting along with small plates of sustainable gourmet delights!

Along with bottles of wine from the Cotes de Bordeaux appellation, we had to suffer gourmet food tastings such as artichokes, duck breast, foie gras (sorry California -but it was my favorite - when in France...), spinach balls (must find the recipe for this), a local fish carpaccio and ending with desserts.  The desserts included chocolate mouse (Rich ate 3) and the famous Canele of Bordeaux - a magical cake with a rich custardy interior enclosed by a thin caramelized shell. (I stopped counting but I think I saw Rich eat at least 8, did I-but these treats are the official cake of Bordeaux!) 
Chef extraordinaire, grand jour!

We stopped at Chateau Falfas in Bourg for a tasting at a Biodynamic (organic) vineyard.  The 50 acre vineyard is harvested manually -no machinery touches the soil.   The Chateau itself is very interesting built in the 14th century and one of the oldest in the region.  The present owner and winemaker is Veronique Cochran- yes a woman winemaker.  (Sorry Veronique for the blurry picture above) She is very proud of the historic reputation and explained to us (in French) about a few of the designs of the building - the estate was passed on to women as noted with the "egg" in the coat of arms and the lower right bottom, you can see 2 female heads who were supposedly the women the estate was passed down to....oh yes, and of course the 2010 Demeure and the 2008 Le Chevalier were impressive

Still on the Right Bank, we went off the wine track to go north to take a quick stop in Cognac.  There are 200 Cognac producers - the 4 big exporters to the USA are Courvoisier, Hennessy, Martell, and Remy Martin.  We only had time to visit one, so we picked Remy Martin based only on the name of our great niece Remy.  I think we made the right choice!

Remy Martin is a very impressive tour  taking us through the history and the process of making distilled brandy named after the town of Cognac.   If you want more information go to their website -better yet, book a trip and you can visit all 200 Cognac producers!  "Eau de Vie"!!

A perfect pairing - Remy with a macaroon (and not just any macaroon - a chocolate and orange combination created by chef Phillippe Saint Romas)  Missed taking the picture on a pairing of iced VSOP and a beautiful Parmesan shortbread with Roquefort butter and pistachios!  Their website has some of the recipes.

....Ok, back to the Merlot grapes from Chateau Rochebelle  - The harvest has begun, so they don't mind my tasting - let's see, swirl around in your mouth, chew, breathe air through your mouth, then expel through your nose......My first impression - yes light, crisp, tangy, and sweet!.... I predict the 2014 wines will be ones to remember!!

It is impossible to drink wine from every vineyard of the Right Bank but we gave it our best effort - when we were not in the vineyards we were in the wine bars.  Now we must give equal time to the Left Bank......Off to Medoc!